With the iconic facade of Union Station looming in the background, more than 100 super athletes braved “floating steps,” a precarious log suspended over water, a devilish zip line and more Monday night as Kansas City welcomed the return of the hit NBC obstacle course competition show “American Ninja Warrior.”
Hundreds of ticket-holding spectators — and plenty more observers plopped on the hill across the street — watched Monday’s opening round. It was the beginning of the competitors’ quest to make it through two days of qualifying needed to punch a ticket to the national finals in Las Vegas and a shot at the American Ninja Warrior title (and $1 million prize).
Monday marked the second visit of “Ninja Warrior” to Union Station after a stop here in 2015.
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“Two years ago when we were here in KC, I honestly think it was the best show we’ve ever had,” co-host (and former Oakland Raider) Akbar Gbaja-Biamila said in an interview with The Star at Union Station. “The crowd here was insane. You would have thought Michael Jackson was in town.”
Among the handful of Kansas Citians competing was 70-year-old Rich Talavera of Prairie Village, a former national gymnastics champion who did a handstand on a skateboard for his NBC audition tape. As he waited for his turn to enter the course, he revealed his game plan: “Don’t get wet.”
That strategy did not work well for most of the competitors Monday night.
The Union Station event will air as part of Season 9, premiering at 7 p.m. June 12 on NBC. According to NBC, scenes from Monday night’s competition are set to air July 3. Tuesday night’s city finals will air Aug. 14.
The first contender of the night was Alex Carson of Kansas City, competing on the show for a third time.
Other Kansas Citians competing included Annie Dudek, an elementary school PE teacher and mom of two; Lars Hanson, a 23-year old in charge of an Olathe sports training camp serving hundreds of local kids; and Elizabeth an Russ Babcock, who won Kansas City’s first ninja warrior gym.
Also competing, according to NBC:
▪ Lucas Pfannenstiel of Olathe, a former NCAA baseball player nicknamed “The Beast”
▪ Dan Nguyen, also of Olathe. Nguyen escaped war in Vietnam at age 6 and was separated from his parents and siblings.
▪ Brad Lynn of Kansas City, a police sergeant, former Navy helicopter rescue swimmer and a part-time magician.
This year, Kansas City joins Los Angeles, Cleveland, San Antonio, Denver and Daytona Beach, Fla., as hosts for the competition’s regional qualifiers.
On the first night, more than 100 competitors try to make it through a near-impossible obstacle course. The top 30 finishers move on to finals, which will film Tuesday. From there, the top 15 competitors will move on to the national finals.
Monday’s shows were scheduled for 8 p.m., 12:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Tuesday’s finals were scheduled for 8 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. All six shows were sold out, but you can join the waiting list here.
Members of the “American Ninja Warrior” production crew are warriors in their own right. One producer said Monday night that they would be filming “probably until about 7 a.m.”
Read more details about the KC competition here.